The Times They are a-Changing …

Written Ramblings by DJ

Vito always had a plan to stay ahead of the curve ...

Oklahoma handled the War Chant and Florida State on the road to cement their top ranking on Saturday.  But two schools that were not even ranked in the top 25 stole their thunder.  Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East for the ACC.  Everybody was mulling over the Texas A/M move to the SEC but nobody saw this coming a week ago.  They pulled a fast one.  Conference realignment is bound to happen.  I will not get into the details behind expansion b/c it involves analyzing the millions of dollars involved with each move.  The Big 12 conference is chaotic but there is a new player on the block stealing all the attention – ACC.  Change is inevitable and I hope the Big Ten makes the right moves.  It will make good decisions but b/c it has been doing that for decades.  But can it keep up with the frantic pace?  I sure hope so, especially after what happened over the weekend.  Syracuse and Pittsburgh were potential targets for the Big Ten.  The conference is interested to expand their base out East rather than worry about going down South.  But it needs to move faster to remain competitive.

The Big Ten has always been ahead of the curve compared to the others.  The schools have great traditions and have actively steered college sports for decades.  The stadiums have been around forever and season tickets are a generational affair within each fan base.  The games have been on TV long before ESPN took over the broadcasting world.  ABC has shown BT games for ages before other conferences such as SEC got on board.  Other conferences have their own networks– SEC and Big 12.  CBS is the unofficial SEC network but none of them can match the ratings of BT games.  Big Ten Network has enjoyed huge success b/c of the alumni presence all over the country.  The conference takes pride in its academic standards.  Academics on average are significantly better than the other schools specifically in the Big 12 and the SEC.  The fans are loyal and travel very well on the road.  The SEC fan will argue that they have a better traveling fan base but let’s see how they turn up to a bowl game to a bowl game on January 4th if it were held in Chicago.  All the bowl games are held down south in warmer weather but the Midwest oriented fans travel better than other school out east.  BCS bowls love to get these schools b/c they are guaranteed packed houses and high revenues.  Illinois got the invite to the 2007 Rose Bowl despite two or three other teams that deserved it more (Missouri, Kansas) only b/c of their traveling fan base.  The Forbes’ list of top revenue generating schools include five or six BT programs in the top ten perennially.  All of these positives make it an elite conference but it also introduces a sense of arrogance.  This arrogance and a “legacy” attitude can hurt a program or an entire group of schools in college sports.

Jim Delaney, the BT commissioner can use the conference’s history to his advantage but should not take it for granted.  The conference can “sell itself” but in this day and age, the sales pitch still needs to be there.   We observe this nonchalant behavior hurting the big schools within the conference.  Michigan and Ohio State don’t have the same recruiting edge from 20 years ago.  What is their selling point … great TV exposure?  SEC has its own network (and CBS).  The Texas games are shown on a separate ESPN channel.  Pac-12 games are shown all over Fox Sports and every team out east is on TV if they can field a decent team.  What’s the next selling point, stadiums?  Every school has enough funding within the alumni base to build large stadiums now unlike 30 years ago.  The Big House and The Horseshoe are unique but so are the Tennessee stadium and The Swamp.  It is obvious that the other conferences have caught up to the BT especially in football.  The SEC is clearly in the leader in football in every aspect: recruiting, talent, rankings and revenue.  Academics can be a selling point right?  Let’s not be naïve; the “student athlete” is mostly concerned about the athletic program than the academic ratings.  What about facilities?  Every school realizes they need to field a good set of facilities in order to continue recruiting top talent.  You will get burnt in college sports if you don’t keep up with the times and call yourself “elite” without putting forth the effort.  Let’s use Notre Dame Football as an example to understand the perils of such attitude.

Notre Dame still thinks they are a top football program.  They are the only ones who believe that … and NBC b/c they have a long term TV contract with them.  The players certainly don’t believe that.  Dame consistently loses top recruits to other schools.  Even coaches don’t buy it.  Ask Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Nick Saban about their opinion.  All of them declined jobs with the Irish despite huge offers.  History and tradition are great selling points for a school but they need to be backed up with a marketing pitch … a conscious effort.  Michigan got rejected by Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles.  Ohio State might face reality next year when Urban Meyer turns them down.  The overall conference might be getting to that same state.  Delaney’s team actually needs to sell the positives of the league to other potential targets and they need to do it soon.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh would have booted for the BT instead but they needed to be approached first.  The conference is analogous to the Corleone family from The Godfather.  The other conferences can be compared to the Barzinis or the Tattalgias in terms of their market share, albeit not their intentions to eliminate Vito’s family.  The Corleones set up the Olive Oil business from ground up and established themselves as the premier mob family before anybody else.  They helped bring up the Barzinis and the other three families.  They incur some collateral damage (Santino is shot) b/c they don’t keep up with the times and Vito’s health issues.  But Michael keeps them at the top b/c he reinvents the family business.  Instead of joining the Narcotics business, they go out west to build Vegas into an empire as they wrap up their business out east.  Despite some setbacks, they still have enough muscle and creativity to keep their business rolling.  This legendary conference still has that “muscle” but they need to act fast.  What is the next move that will separate them from the pack?  Do they have something brewing and we just don’t know??  Michael had a plan in mind but he waited until Connie’s kid’s baptism to bring the five families together to remind them about his strength.  I might be giving Jim Delaney too much credit by comparing him to Vito or Michael but he still has a great alumni base and twelve excellent universities.  They just need to make a serious effort to sell and the schools will respond.  You can’t doubt their moves over the last 20 years.  Penn State was a natural fit and so is Nebraska.  Neither team hesitated to join the conference when presented with the opportunity.  Once Notre Dame realizes they are not Notre Dame, they will join as well.  Missouri just wants to be asked the question and they will pounce on it.  Great businesses need to keep up with the times to stay on top.  The Corleones did that.  Stringer Bell from The Wire had the same foresight but Avon Barksdale was too arrogant to let his “corners” go.  What will the Big Ten do?  I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now but their time is running out.  They want to “honor legends and build leaders” but they better not be stuck on the legends for too long and rest on their laurels.  The times are changing and they need to keep up.

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